There’s something joyous about this current live iteration of Eels. Something care-free, something tongue-in-cheek, something that is, ultimately “rockin’”.
Billed as the “triumphant return of Eels”, there is already an air of cocksure rock showmanship about the affair, but this is Mark ‘E’ Everett and nothing is that straightforward. This Eels show is a subtle subversion of rock n roll tropes but with all the big riffs and bombast in place.
Rock City is heaving with unsure expectation, you never know what to expect with an Eels gig, as ‘Gonna Fly Now’ by DeEtta Little and Nelson Pigford (or the Rocky Theme) plays the band on leading to a run of big riffing covers, ‘Out On The Street’ by The Who, Bobbie Gentry’s ‘Mississippi Delta’ and a ‘smooth’ but heavy take on Prince’s ‘Raspberry Beret’.
It’s clear at this point that this swamp rock version of Eels is here to party and don’t care what you think. Of course, three songs in without a single Eels song does noticeably wear thin across the crowd, but that soon dissipates when they hit the full voodoo stomp of ‘Flyswatter’ given a rock make-over.
This sets the tone for set of pure rock n roll. E has always set the live shows apart from the recorded material, which deserve their own unique space, wanting to provide a real show and this is clear in Rock City during a set that includes the obvious rockier end of the catalogue, ‘Dog Faced Boy’ and ‘Souljacker’, but also reframes other classics.
Debut single ‘Novacaine for the Soul’ is given the full classic rock treatment with a riff that would have fit Deep Purple at their heaviest, and the usually twee ‘I Like Birds’ is a kinetic punk blast.
“Can Rock City be Soft Rock City?”, asks E kicking off a running joke that accompanies the softer, sweeter moments in the set. Still rocking but allowing the fractured emotions of Eels music, songs like the bluesy take on ‘Prizefighter’, the Latin-flavoured ‘My Beloved Monster’ and the stripped back ‘I Like The Way This is Going’, they let the set ebb and flow beautifully.
E is on full, charming, form, cracking jokes and leading the piss-taking of rock tropes. Introducing the band ends with a song about how small the drummer is, he points out that he is in a band “with giants”, needing a riser and regularly refers to the places as “Hottingham” both because it is sweltering and, also, everyone is “beautiful”. In the hands of most performers this could appear lame, but this is all delivered with a knowing smile.
The sense of fun, the humour and the sheer abandon of it all makes this a perfect rock n roll show. It also helps that the band, including E, are exceptional musicians which allows for deviations from the norm without ever losing sight of the tunes.
Full embracing the concept of encores, the band first return for heavy version of ‘Mr E’s Beautiful Blues’ and then for a stalking ‘Fresh Blood’, a funky medley that starts with ‘Wonderful Glorious’ and incorporates ‘Love and Mercy’ plus ‘Blinking Lights (for Me)’ before returning to the funky breakdown of the first tune. E leaves as the band launch into The Beatles’ ‘The End’.
They wave, they leave and that is it, a truly triumphant return for Eels to Nottingham. Sure, there is so much missed out and there is a craving to hear some of the songs in their full, intricate album versions but no Eels experience is ever the same twice.
The only question now is what will we get next time they are town?